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On a clear day you can see Montana

The Reporter's Notebook


Last updated 11/24/2020 at 8:49am

Steptoe Butte lies 12 miles north of Colfax, the Whitman County seat. Its elevation is 3,612 feet, hovering over the Palouse wheat fields.

It is said that on the horizon you can see the high mountains in Montana.

For me, the view affords me a visit to many of the places that made my Palouse childhood so pleasant.

To the southeast are the hills in Idaho where my family spent many a fall day picking huckleberries. The picking was always good, and my dad would scout the area so we would have success.

I spent many a day probing huckleberry bush. We were not just picking huckleberries, but picking huckleberry pies.

On one occasion, while not there, my cousin Ruby, who had major arthritis problems in both her hands and feet, got lost. Family members said that when they noticed she was missing, it was too late to find her. She had wandered over a ridge and made her way downhill. It was four days later before she was found. A neighbor boy who knew the woods where she became lost said he knew where she would come out. Ruby had two boys, both scouts. In the process of helping them with their merit badges, she had learned enough about survival that it helped her during her ordeal.

The young boy who said he knew where she would come out, four days later rode a horse into the woods and found her, tired, hungry, and full of scratches and bruises.

This boy was our neighbor and would carry me to my first grade when the snow got too deep for me to walk. This was the 1906-7 winter.

Near our huckleberry haunts was a hunting cabin owned by my dad and his brothers. It was never locked. People back then respected other people’s property.

The sign on the door said to use the cabin and leave it as you found it. It wasn’t fancy but it had an old stove and you could build a fire. A bed had bare springs, but we spent a few nights on them.

The cabin was about 20 miles from Potlatch, Idaho, in mountains Dad called “the hoodoos.”

A few miles out of Potlatch were the small towns of Princeton and Harvard and just a few miles away there was Grizzly Camp, and a mile farther on Laird Park, both camping and picnic areas. This was all within 20 miles or so of Palouse.

You could continue over the mountain and come across old dredges just left in place when the gold dried up. Just a few miles on is where my Dad and family had a logging camp, providing logs to the Potlatch Forest Inc., mill, where later I worked for four years and learned the art of lumber grading.

And that later is what brought me to the coulee.

Within view of Steptoe Butte is one of the routes I take when returning to Palouse for a visit. I go to Coeur d’ Alene and turn towards Emida, where one of my schoolmates had a cattle ranch. He is gone now, but I still choose this route. It takes me to the “White Pine Drive” a 20 mile stretch that takes you through one of Idaho’s finest white pine forests. It was on this route that you could stop and look at the largest white pine tree in Idaho. You can still see the tree, but you have to look down on it, apparently the victim of a wind storm. A couple of miles from there iwas my Aunt Voe’s favorite places in the woods. There ws just a small turnoff from the highway that was easy to miss. When we would go to see her she would pack a lunch and we would drive to her hideaway to relax and eat. She is also gone now.

While in Palouse I always try to lunch with Janet Barstow, the daughter of one of my classmates and the mainstay of the town’s museum. Also I try to connect with the only local classmate remaining, Bob Olson. Bob was a farmer’s son and he and I and 13 others started the first grade together and graduated together.

Bob stayed on the family farm until he couldn’t manage things anymore. He now lives in an assisted living place in Pullman.

Palouse is different than most small towns. Things can get bad with fires and floods but the spirit of the people lifts the town up again.

When I look out from Steptoe Butte I can trace my life as a series of inter connected happenings that makes Palouse home.


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